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Excavations ASW2

Quartz from ASW2


Anuradhapura (Sri Lanka) Project, Phase I

Phase I of the Anuradhapura Project, directed by Robin Coningham and Raymond Allchin, worked within a framework already established by the Archaeological Survey of Sri Lanka's Anuradhapura Citadel Archaeological Project, set up in 1984 to investigate the ancient urban core of the complex, under the Direction of Dr. Deraniyagala.

Between 1989 and 1994 905m3 of archaeological deposits were excavated from Anuradhapura Salgaha Watta 2 (ASW2). ASW2 measured 10m x 10m across and 10m deep and was designed to identify a structural sequence at the site, as well as to provide a periodised artefact catalogue and comprehensive chronometric sequence. Both objectives were realised during the excavations; and ASW2 has provided a unique unbroken sequence of Anuradhapura’s development from an Iron Age village into a medieval metropolis with evidence for the appearance of early Brahmi script, monumental works, irrigation, imports and craft specialisation (Coningham 1999, 2006).

The excavations at ASW2 also illustrated Anuradhapura's pivotal role in Indian Ocean trade as Anuradhapura straddles its growth and development for almost two millennia. All the more surprising as Anuradhapura is situated over 60km from the coast, with no navigable river connecting the city to the coast. Volume II of the project provides ample evidence of this trade and contact with the coast in the form of Early Islamic glass and glazed ceramics, Graeco-Roman glass, metal-work and derived ceramic forms, Chinese glazed ceramics, imported semi-precious stone, as well as the presence of marine species at the site. Such studies have also allowed us to understand more about the position of Anuradhapura as a primate city within the island and its role as a centralized manufacturing centre. Internal trade developments were studied through analysis of metal-working, stone-working and shell-working debris at the site, allowing the identification at which stages different raw, and semi-processed, materials were processed within the site.

A connected aspect is the evidence at Anuradhapura for the development of writing systems within South Asia. Earlier work by Deraniyagala at Anuradhapura suggested that Brahmi, the ancestor of many of South Asia's vernacular scripts, occurred a number of centuries earlier than previously thought (Deraniyagala, 1990). It had been generally accepted that this script had been derived from a Semetic script, developed in Northern India in the third century BC, and spread southwards until it reached Sri Lanka (Buhler, 1896; Winternitz, 1927; Dani, 1963; Von Hinuber, 1990). Work at ASW2 has now supported Deraniyagala's hypothesis, and evidence of Brahmi script dating to the beginning of the fourth century BC is presented in the second volume of the project. This discovery, the earliest example of its kind in South Asia, has enabled a reassessment of the traditionally accepted theories and to suggest fresh hypotheses for its development and spread through trade (Coningham, Allchin, Batt & Lucy, 1996). All of this helps to overturn Sri Lanka's cultural stereotype; that as it is situated at the southern tip of the peninsula it was the latest recipient of any innovation. Now the growing use of chronometric dating within Sri Lanka is helping to establish its position as a pivotal point of South Asia.

Anuradhapura can be classified as an Early Historic fortified city, and as the most southerly example of its type, helps us to understand the models for the second urbanization in South Asia. Indeed, the nearest known examples of similar cities are at Dhanyakataka in Andrah Pradesh and Banavasi in Karnataka, 900 km to the north. The presence of a fortified urban centre in the interior of the island in the fourth century BC recommends that earlier hypotheses that the urbanization of the peripheries of South Asia occurred as a direct result of Mauryan expansion and contact in the third century BC are re-examined. Indeed, the excellent sequence of structures and artefacts at Anuradhapura allow us to study an aspect of the urbanization of South Asia in some detail.


The Growth of Anuradhapura

Period K: c.840 – 460 cal BC
Period J: c.510 – 340 cal BC
Period I: c.360 – 190 cal BC
Period G & H: c.200 – 130 cal BC
Period F: c.200 – 600 AD
Period B, C, D & E: c.600 – 1100 AD
Period A: c.1905 AD